Sociology: What is Racial Inequality?

American Sociology: What is Racial Inequality?

Sociology: What is Racial Inequality? Well, social inequality refers to “the condition whereby people have unequal access to valued resources, services, and positions in society.”1)(Kerbo 1983, p. 250).

Racial inequality in turn can be defined as the limited economic and social opportunities that are distributed along racial lines. Societies where racial inequalities are high, are characterized by large disparities among different races and ethnicities in such areas as housing, education, employment income, and health care. See, Disparate Impact, Adverse Impactand Disparate Treatment. While some researchers argue that inequalities exist because of the efforts (or lack of efforts) of individuals, most contemporary scholars agree that persistent racial inequalities are a product of what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2001) refers to as a racialized social system—a system that reproduces and maintains the status of the dominant group socially, economically, politically, and psychologically.

That is, racial inequality implies that access to resources and goods are overwhelmingly denied to people of color because of systemic rather than individual notions of racism. The social system upholds racism and maintains a racialized society.

Quianna Canada helps educated Black America.


Theories on racial inequality range from individual and cultural explanations that tend to lay blame on the victims (non-whites) for their social and economic status in society to structural and systemic theories that tend to look beyond the individual to explain why most non-whites, especially those with darker skin, continue to face discrimination in society. For example, deficiency theory, an outdated theory of racial inequality, argues that the economic, political, and social situation of some racial groups is due to some deficiency within the groups themselves. Deficiency theorists point to three causes for these deficiencies: biological, structural, and cultural. Regarding the first, scholars, the vast majority of whom were white, attempted to prove that the cause of racial inequalities stemmed from the biological inferiority of minority groups, which was unsubstantiated.

Other researchers sought to demonstrate that there were basic flaws in the way minority groups structured their lives that helped to explain racial inequalities. Scholars also argued that racial and ethnic groups’ cultural traits and values served as a justification for the inequalities they experienced. The problem with deficiency theories, although still widely espoused by primarily conservative scholars, is their lack of empirical evidence and mostly unsubstantiated claims. Other theories of racial inequality (e.g., bias theory) rely on the assumption that racial inequality is the result of individual prejudice and bias. The main criticism of such theories is that they ignore how societies are often structured along racial lines, which ultimately leads to social, residential, educational, and other forms of segregation.

This theoretical framework ignores how racism can continue to operate in a society even when overt prejudices and discriminatory practices are no longer “socially” acceptable.

References   [ + ]

1. (Kerbo 1983, p. 250).

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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